It's not for us to play God

By Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, July 16, 2009

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, minister of one of the largest congregations, Finchley, told the US Council that rabbis were “deeply concerned” about the possible consequences of the JFS court ruling on Jewish schools.

He had himself once been a chairman of governors of a Jewish school when he had “inherited a situation.The previous authorities had accepted children who were not halachically Jewish.

“Huge pressure had been brought upon the governors beforehand and they just buckled under for the sake of shalom in the community, and they said let’s be kind to this family and let’s accept the children.

“I saw these children on a daily basis at school, bright kids, lovely kids. We had shacharit every morning, we couldn’t include the boys in the minyan, we couldn’t call them up to the Torah.”

Although they were the best Hebrew readers, they were unable to lead the service, he said. “They were ostracised within our school. It was all so very wrong, it should never have been that way.”

At 16, the older boy started to date a girl from a respected family in the community, he said, embarking on a serious relationship which lasted for years.

The boy “adamantly refused to convert according to halachah” and the situation produced a rift within the girl’s family, Rabbi Mirvis said.

“We brought this about — and that’s not what Jewish schools have been created for.”

He also attacked the idea of admitting children on the basis of Jewish practice rather than their mother’s Jewish status following the court’s decision.

“The court has decided that what will determine admission to our schools will not be halachah but rather practice,” he said. “The Jewishness of the person will be determined by the level of practice within that family.

“I must tell you it is an abhorrent mindset… for us to adopt. It is the very antithesis of what we are all about. It’s not for us to play God, to give the future children of our congregants, members of our community, marks out of 10 as far as what they do or what they don’t.”

The outcome would be that some Jewish children would lose out by being denied school places. “Instead we will have non-halachic Jews coming into our system,” he said, “and the very ethos of our schools will therefore be threatened.”

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010